Authors: Barbara Rogan
The author is grateful for the generous help of Dr. Larry Riemer, Dr. Zachary Apfel, Dr. Stuart Apfel, Leslie Savan, and Maria Laurino.
The network of support fashioned by Tillie Fisher, David and Eleanor Rogan, Joy Harris, Laurie Bernstein, Ben Kadishson and Jonathan Kadishson allowed the author the time and space to complete this work, for which she is deeply grateful.
is entirely fictional; however, the kind of corruption described herein has its analogue in the real world. For a first-rate, nuts-and-bolts account of political corruption, the author recommends Jack Newfield and Wayne Barrett’s
City for Sale,
published by Harper and Row.
THERE WAS A MAN IN THE LAND OF UZ, WHOSE NAME WAS JOB; AND THAT MAN WAS PERFECT AND UPRIGHT, AND ONE THAT FEARED GOD, AND ESCHEWED EVIL.
The downfall of the Fleishman family began deceptively, without augury, as is common in our times. The same story set twenty-five hundred years ago would have been preceded by the standard omens of disaster and betrayal: comets plunging through the heavens, steaming entrails presaging death, solar and lunar eclipses. The reader would have been forewarned, the participants forearmed. They could have taken precautions, useless though they would have proved.
Nowadays we have no auguries, or none of supernatural note. In our distance from the gods there is inevitably bereftness, but also benefit. When a man of substance sits at ease in the midst of his family, he is not wont to anticipate disaster; and if he could, what would it profit him? Who could support this life, knowing that a single snag could unravel it all, like a stocking with a run; or that a family, solidly if complicatedly meshed, might split asunder at a touch? Better not to know, and bless the flow of time that keeps us in our innocence.
GRACIE ANSWERED THE DOOR. A bearded stranger stood on the step. Beat-up leather jacket, jeans, a friendly smile, and sharp, reporter’s eyes.
“Hi,” he said. “Would Jonathan be in, I wonder?”
“Who are you?”
“Barnaby. I write for the
Her gray eyes narrowed. “He’s not in. If he were, he’d slam the door in your face.”
He noticed that she didn’t and leaned against the lintel. “You know who I am, then. He’s mentioned me.”
“Sure. In the same breath with Jack the Ripper.”
“Well, he’s pissed,” he said with an aw-shucks kind of look. “I can understand that.”
“Michael Kavin happens to be his best friend.”
“That’s why I’m here. Look, do you mind if I come in for a second? I don’t want to be crude, but I’m about to burst.”
Gracie stepped back. After using the bathroom, Barnaby detoured into the living room. He looked about appraisingly. Then he looked at her the same way.
Her face was coming back to him now. Last time he’d seen it, it was attached to a little girl, ten, eleven years old. A picture came to him of a skinny kid standing on a stage, haranguing a roomful of adults. The hoyden had metamorphosed into a beautiful girl, with a feminine version of her father’s face; she had Jonathan’s high cheekbones, olive skin, black hair, and gray eyes with flecks of green. Barnaby smiled.
“Little Gracie, all grown up. How old are you now?”
“Eighteen,” she said.
“You look a lot like your old man, only prettier.”
“You’ve got nerve, showing up here.”
“It’s the job.” He sat in her father’s armchair, stretching out his legs. “In private life, I’m a very bashful guy.”
“I can tell.”
“So, you’ve read my stuff?”
“Everybody reads your stuff.”
He nodded. In the circles they moved in, everyone did read his stuff. “What do you think?”
“I used to think you were pretty good.”
“Till it hit too close to home?”
“Till you lost your fucking mind.”
“You think I made it up, all that stuff about Kavin?”
“You’d better get your ass out of here before my father comes home.”
“ Answer the question.”
“What’s it to you what I think?”
“I’m curious. You don’t remember me, but I remember you. You still have opinions, Gracie?”
She looked at him. Her eyes were older than her face, which lent her an air of anachronism, like a sepia portrait in modern dress.
“Good-bye, Barnaby,” she said.
He let her walk him out. Halfway down the path he turned to look back. Grace was leaning against the door with her arms folded, a watchful sentry. He heard himself say, for no fathomable reason, “Come see me. Come to the
I’ll show you around.”
“Beard the lion in his den?”
She turned and went into the house.
* * *
One week later, Gracie gave her name to a receptionist and sat for some minutes in the dingiest waiting room she’d ever seen. Just as she was about to leave, regretting the impulse that had brought her, Barnaby appeared. “You came. Good for you!” He showed her around the office, introducing her by first name only to people whose names, first and last, were well-known to her. Later they sat in a coffee shop on East Broadway and talked for hours about all sorts of things. Jonathan was not mentioned.
* * *
On a fine spring morning, one Sunday early in May, the Fleishman family sat in the breakfast room, French doors open to admit the sweet herbal breeze that wafted in from Lily’s garden. The table was laid for five. Jonathan sat at the head, Lily at the foot; between them sat their son, Paul, ensconced in the financial section of the
and beside him Clara, Jonathan’s mother. The fifth setting was untouched.
Gracie wandered in as they were finishing, holding a book before her face. Without looking up, she took her customary seat beside her father. Lily put aside the
Entertainment section and sat up straight, as if the new arrival were her governess rather than her daughter.
“Say good morning, Gracie,” prompted Jonathan.
She glanced briefly round the table. “Good morning.”
“Did you sleep well?” Lily asked.
Clara clicked her tongue against her dentures. “The food’s cold already. You want I should make you an egg?”
“No, thanks.” Gracie turned a page.
“Eyes not even open, and already with the books. You can’t live from books, my darling.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Why should you be hungry? You don’t do nothing.”
Jonathan and Lily exchanged a look. Jonathan shrugged slightly. When his mother got going, she could not be stopped, only tuned out. And Gracie was good at that.
Gracie contrived to pour a cup of coffee without lifting her eyes from the page.
Clara said, “It’s not right. A young girl should go out, meet people, not sit home alone.”
No one answered her, but Paul sighed.
“And you, Mr. Big Shot College Boy, you can’t bring home a nice boy for your sister, such a beautiful girl?”
Paul, who privately felt his friends could do better, shrugged behind the paper.
“Mama,” said Jonathan, “I don’t think Gracie needs a matchmaker just yet.” He turned to his daughter and, with the clear intention of changing the subject, asked what she was reading.
“Lord of the Rings.”
“Didn’t you read that years ago?”
She raised her eyes to his. “I read it every year. I like it. You can tell the good guys from the bad.”
Jonathan flushed. This was Grade’s specialty, the unprovoked assault disguised as conversation. This time, though, he was determined not to be drawn in. “Then you ought to read westerns,” he said. “I recommend Zane Grey.”
“Again with the books,” Clara complained. “A man she can’t bring home. Whoever heard of a eighteen-year-old girl don’t go out?”
“For your information,” Gracie snapped, “I am going out with someone.”
In the silence that followed, Paul lowered his paper and stared at his sister. “You?” She stuck her tongue out at him.
“Who is he, Gracie?” Lily asked.
She pushed back a wedge of long black hair and scowled into her cup. “Just somebody.”
“Thanks God,” Clara said. “What does he do, this somebody?”
“He’s a writer.”
? From this he makes a living?”
“Good question, Grandma. I’ll check his tax returns.”
“What does he write, this writer?”
Her father gave her a suspicious look. “What’s his name?”
“Barnaby,” she said reluctantly.
Jonathan turned his hands palm-upward on the table and gazed into them, as if reading his own fortune. “Oh, Gracie.”
Lily looked from her husband to her daughter. “Barnaby…not that bastard who wrote about Michael?”
“That’s the one,” Gracie said.
“How could you?” said Jonathan.
She found she could not quite meet his gaze. “You used to like him. You called him the best goddamn investigative reporter in the city.”
“He used to be. Then one morning he woke up and discovered he was God.”
“He’s not like that.”
“Christ Almighty, Gracie. Everything else aside, he must be twice your age.”
“Age doesn’t matter,” she informed him airily.
Jonathan slammed the table. “He’s crucifying Michael! Does that matter? He’s damn near destroyed him already with his lies!”
“If they’re lies, how could they destroy him?”
“Don’t talk like a child.”
“Jonathan,” Lily said, “take it easy.”
He glared at her. “Our daughter is dating the Charles Manson of journalism and you want me to take it easy?”
“Really, Dad, chill,” Gracie said. “It’s not like he’s writing about you.”
“Not yet,” Jonathan said grimly. “Let me tell you something that should have been obvious. If that son of a bitch is chasing you, he’s got a reason.”
couldn’t be the reason.”
He looked at her and softened. “Use those brains of yours. Ask yourself what does a man of his age and experience want with a teenager?”
Gracie threw down her napkin and strode to the door she’d entered just minutes ago.
“Get back here!” Jonathan bellowed. “Gracie, I forbid you... ” But she was already gone.
* * *